Interview with Dr. Ajeet Kumar
Dr. Ajeet Kumar
Researcher at CNIT, Italy
Former RA on Chandrayaan-2 Project|IIT & NIT Alumnus
Pisa, Tuscany, Italy
Q1. Please share your educational and professional journey with us?
My educational journey Started with a Government school “Saryu High School” of my small village “Sursand”, that ended up after completing my Ph.D. from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee. I can say that my educational journey was quite good as recently I got facilitated as one of the best alumni of my School at the eve of “Diamond Jubilee Celebration (100 years completion)” in 2020.
At the verge of completing my Ph.D. from IIT Roorkee, my supervisor and I have jointly written a research proposal including few interesting problems related to the Lunar regolith exploration. We discussed this proposal with the ISRO SAC (Satellite Application Center) team and successfully got sponsored a project from them. I joined that project as a Research Associate (RA), and that’s how my professional research life began. I joined as a Research Associate in the ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 project entitled: “Development of Mathematical Models for Estimation of Lunar Regolith Roughness and Dielectric Constant using Chandrayaan-2 data”. For complete one year, I worked on this CH-2 project and then moved to Pisa (Italy) to perform another task related to Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data processing. I joined CNIT (National, Inter-University Consortium for Telecommunications, www.cnit.it) in Pisa, wherein I am currently working as a researcher in the topic of Polarimetric Inverse SAR based Imaging of 3D targets.
Q2. How do you define research in your own words? What are your research interest and specialties?
In my view, research is something which, when performed, should directly or indirectly benefit to the society. Research needs to be started with the survey to identify the requirement of society. Further new method, technique, or theory should be established to fulfill that requirement. Furthermore, the established theory should be properly validated before implementation. The work carried out in research should be very honest and truthful because it may decide the course of thinking of many persons (other researchers) in the future.
My research interests include Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) based Satellite data analysis for applications such as Land-cover classification, Lunar surface exploration, Oil spill detection, and Snow density retrieval. All of these applications are vital for the benefit of society. Over these applications, one can find my research papers available online on the research platform.
Q3. You are currently working as a Researcher at CNIT, Italy and you have previous experience too. What kind of difference have you noticed as a Researcher in abroad and in India?
We can’t generalize all abroad in one single category. The theory varies from country to country. My opinion is based on comparing the work culture of India and Europe. The first difference one could find is the work-life balance is better in Europe. They work on the 5-day basis with dedication, and the remaining 2 days, i.e., on the weekend they don’t do any work activity, rather they prefer to give full time to their family. In the research organizations like ours, “overtime work” is strictly prohibited to not hamper employees’/Candidates’ physical or mental health. The second difference one could find is in the relationship between Group leader with the other persons of the research group. In India, usually this relationship is like “Boss-Employee”, contrarily in Europe, the “Colleague” culture is more prevalent. In the research field, the colleague culture is important as in such cases, the candidate can openly speak about his/her failure too along with the success. In recent times, our younger generation people, who studied abroad or have taken research experience in abroad, are joining in India as a group-leader or faculty. They are changing the trend in India too, and that’s a very good sign for Indian future research. The other things, like lab facilities, fund support, and research community exposure (like technical talks and meetings), are sufficiently good in top colleges/organizations of India as well as Europe, which are again very important for research guidance.
Q4. What was your thesis topic in Ph.D.? Please share some brief about it.
My Ph.D. thesis topic was: “Analyses of hybrid-pol SAR data for landcover classification”.
I started my research on hybrid-polarimetry (hybrid-pol) Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) during my Ph.D. In the field of hybrid-pol SAR, our country India is leading the world, as the first hybrid-pol SAR satellite for Earth-Observatory purpose, i.e., Radar Imaging Satellite – 1 (RISAT – 1), was launched by India in 2012. For Lunar surface exploration, India launched two high resolution hybrid-pol SAR based sensors: Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2. During my Ph.D., I have thoroughly investigated more than 50 different hybrid-pol SAR based RISAT-1 datasets acquired over various regions in India. In my Ph.D. career (2014-2019), I have proposed four novel hybrid-pol SAR analysis methods that have been proven better compared to the conventional and state-of-the-art methods for Earth observatory purposes. During my Ph.D., I have also worked on the ISRO project under which I have established a new MATLAB-based GUI which is useful in processing any of the hybrid-pol SAR-based satellite datasets. This software tool has been handed over to ISRO as well as IIT Roorkee.
Q5. What was your experience as a Research Associate in ISRO led Chandrayaan 2 Project? What was your role in that project?
It was a great experience working on Chandrayaan 2 project. I am lucky that I worked at the very beginning of the project that helped me to get involved with the Satellite Applications Center (SAC) team in the calibration as well as processing of the datasets for Lunar exploration. I mainly worked on lunar surface characterization using microwave Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, which is quite important to explore the geological and chemical compositions, especially in dark, permanently shadowed regions. The lunar polar regions (especially the South pole region) exhibit a large dark area that receives poor sunlight illuminations. As a result, the passive and optical multi-spectral sensor systems are not able to operate correctly. Hence, to map unexplored lunar polar regions, the microwave SAR based sensors, such as Chandrayaan-2 dual-frequency SAR (DFSAR), is immensely useful. In my one year of research with ISRO team under CH2 project, I proposed a novel method to remotely estimate the real value of the dielectric constant for the lunar surface. For validation of the proposed method, the SAR data of Mini-RF are used since it covers the landing site of the Apollo 17 mission. During the Apollo 17 mission, various lunar soil samples were collected and brought back to the Earth for experimental analysis. The dielectric constant of these samples was measured under controlled laboratory conditions. These measured values are considered a benchmark, with respect to which the performance of the proposed methodology is evaluated. As demonstrated, the real values of dielectric constant estimated by using the proposed method are in good agreement with the measured values from the Apollo 17 mission. This corresponding work is published in IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing (IEEE TGRS, IF: 5.6), which can be reached on the link: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9515311 , for more details.
Q6. How do you see Remote Sensing and GIS in terms of research and problem solving?
Currently, Remote Sensing and GIS have become very vital in solving day-to-day societal problems. I can elaborate on it with examples. The works like crop type mapping and it’s monitoring is being precise day by day through satellite datasets that help in managing and improving agriculture. By getting the correct correlation of Snow depth and density with satellite datasets, peoples are trying to predict the river’s future water level that helps in monitoring flood condition. From Strategic point of view, the highest point of control is always important in defense. In future, the space is going to be the highest monitoring point through Satellites, and for that every country is in race to send their own satellites. Early monitoring of oil-spill is saving the surrounding atmosphere and the living things around the affected sea regions. Plenty of more examples are there through which one can establish that the Remote Sensing and GIS is very important for our societal problem solving.
Q7. What kind of problems have you faced in your research work, and how did you remove them?
At the time when I started my research, there were very few openly available satellite datasets. Further to access the dataset of ROI (Region of Interest), it was not possible to pay a huge amount of money to the organization owning the satellite. Our research team in IIT Roorkee had collaborated with ISRO, and consequently, we were facilitated with many datasets from ISRO side. Although nowadays the scenario has changed. We should be thankful to the Remote Sensing research community of India as well as world that presently, enormous number of datasets from various satellites are freely available online. Even the new satellite, such as Chandrayaan 2 datasets are also recently made freely available by ISRO through the PRADAN web application. Another problem, which is general for all the Ph.D. candidates doing research in India, is related to financial assistance ship what they are getting from the side of MHRD. It is lesser than expected. The Ph.D. scholars are well qualified (post graduated) to get a salary equivalent to the executive people, but what they are getting is a fix-pay amount equivalent to the salary of clerk in India. It should be changed. The handsome salary can attract more good quality students towards research.
Q8. Tell us about one of the moments which changed your perspective towards life?
I am a person of a science background. Science makes things predictable and certain to some extent. Oppositely to science, human life has lots of uncertainties. Sometimes it’s painful. I have fallen prey to one of such events. I lost my mother two years back that changed my perspective towards life. She was playing, talking, enjoying at night, but in the morning, suddenly an attack has taken her. While sleeping in the night, I was the happiest person owning every possible thing one requires for happiness. But in the morning, the things were completely different. You can do as much as you can with your capability, but things will be uncertain in life, and you need to convince yourself to adopt these uncertain events.
Q9. What message would you like to give to the young researchers who want to research in any specific domain? Please suggest any path to students for getting a good space in abroad universities in terms of research?
My message to them is “Just go for it”. Yes, if you are interested in doing research in any specific field, start studying literature, articles, press releases, etc. on them. Literature Study or Survey is the first and foremost important thing that needs to be performed very rigorously and honestly. This will help you to think about what can be done in future and how efficiently it could be performed. You can start with the review articles and further go deeper and deeper by following the referenced work. To get selected in a good laboratory or university in abroad, you need to have a quality publication. While publishing your research work, please focus on quality publications, don’t waste yourself in just increasing the quantity. I also suggest you to interact with the researchers of your field/expertise from abroad during international conferences or workshops. Try to discuss with them your ongoing research work and interest. By doing this, you will get good suggestions or guidance from them. Also, it will boost your international connections. A piece of general advice to the new young researcher is to try working on the research topics which are application-oriented; this will help you to get selected in the leading laboratory of abroad. You need to be crystal clear about the implementation scope of your research work in real surrounding scenarios.
Read more about Dr. Ajeet Kumar:
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=-2N1-CkAAAAJ&hl=en